A collaboration between scientists at AAFC, CFIA and Health Canada is researching the links between antibiotic use in livestock production and human health
By Jackie Clark
Consumers of livestock products are increasingly aware of potential concerns surrounding antibiotic use in food animals. A team of Canadian researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Health Canada are working to see if those concerns are warranted, and what can be done about them.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a real problem for human health, for public health,” Dr. Ed Topp, research scientist at AAFC and project coordinator, told Farms.com.
The scientists are investigating potential links between the public health concern and livestock management using the One Health framework. This takes into consideration that “animals and people are connected in terms of their microbiology through the environment,” Topp explained.
“The majority of antibiotics (used in Canada) are used in food animal production,” he said.
“There’s concern that there’s development of resistance in these production systems and then people are exposed to these new resistant bacteria through consumption of meat or through exposure to contaminated environments,” he added.
The researchers will investigate whether this is true and what can be done through “two overriding objectives to the program,” Topp said.
The objectives are to “gain better insights as to where in production systems resistance is developing,” and “to find ways of producing animals using means other than antibiotics,” he explained.
“We’re three years into the five-year program,” and they’re starting to find some results, Topp said.
One important finding is that enterococci (a genus of bacteria that has developed resistance to many antibiotics, causing human health concerns) are not found in cattle and, therefore, that specific human health concern is unlikely to be linked to beef consumption, he explained.
The scientists have also developed “new DNA-based tools that allow us to study the movement of genes that confer antibiotic resistance with much more precision than we would have been able to in the past,” he added.
Another part of the team has been working on nutritional additives in animal feed to reduce the need for antibiotics.
Whether or not antibiotic-resistant bugs that impact human health stem from livestock antibiotic use, there is a demand from consumers for meat that is raised without antibiotics.
“There’s a market reason” that producers have less access to antibiotics, Topp said.
“Some of the initiatives to devise alternatives to antibiotics, when they end up in the market, will be beneficial,” he added.
The project will help in “obtaining evidence to where, in fact, we don’t have a problem,” and narrowing into specific instances where there is an issue, Topp said.
The collaborative nature of the project is one of its strengths.
“One of the unique aspects is the composition of the team,” Topp said.
A multi-disciplinary, One Health approach including AAFC, CFIA, and Health Canada maximizes capacity of the industry through co-operation.
“The experience of having scientists in the different government departments that have a stake in this, from the tax payer perspective or even the industry perspective, is a good thing,” he added.
Jacqueline Nix\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo